Next up for IndyCar: The ‘Mega’ Month of May

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If you are related to or live with a race fan, and he or she starts to hum ‘It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,’ don’t be alarmed.

Because for many race fans around the world, the month of May is effectively a second holiday season.

And the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend is our Christmas/Hanukkah/Chrismukkah (remember that one?)/Festivus: The Monaco Grand Prix, Indianapolis 500, and Coca-Cola 600, all in one day.

What neat gifts. But for those who follow IndyCar, they’ll be getting one more present this May.

The Verizon IndyCar Series will still have its homecoming at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but it’s gotten bigger – and a bit different. Call it the ‘Mega’ Month of May at the Brickyard, as the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis on IMS’ revamped road course (May 10) emerges as a lead-in for our beloved Greatest Spectacle in Racing (May 25).

While I’m not certain that the GP of Indy has been able to capture every heart within the IndyCar fan base, I sense that with two weeks to go, some of the uncertainty has been replaced with intrigue.

It helps that the key players are itching to see what all that construction work inside the Speedway over the winter and early spring has yielded.

“It’s a new challenge for everybody,” said Ryan Hunter-Reay after his win yesterday at Barber Motorsports Park. “That’s the great thing about it, everybody starts from scratch there.

“It may be that the Grand Prix of Indianapolis will have its own type of setup. It may be similar to some tracks [we already race on]. We don’t know yet. That’s the challenge we’re all looking forward to.”

He and the rest of the field won’t have to wait much longer to find out what sort of challenge they’re in for, as the first test on the IMS road circuit comes Wednesday.

But while the GP of Indy is next up on the schedule, the ‘500’ remains the biggest prize of all.

Calendar-wise, preparations for the 98th Running don’t offically get started until May 11, the day after the GP. But they’ll begin in earnest one day before the road course test on Tuesday, when NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Kurt Busch and 1995 Indy champion Jacques Villeneuve tackle the 2.5-mile IMS oval.

Busch, the first driver in a decade to attempt the Indy 500-Coke 600 double, will be working through his Rookie Orientation Program for Andretti Autosport, while Villeneuve will undergo his Refresher Test (the final two stages of ROP) for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

It’ll be a busy two days, and it’ll give us an idea of what we could be in for this May at the world’s greatest racecourse.

So again, if you find that your favorite race fan is busting out holiday carols for seemingly no apparent reason, just give a knowing smile and be on your way.

However, feel free to call for help if they take to sipping egg nog. There are some seasonal lines you just don’t cross, after all.

IMSA: Rolex 24 Team Preview – GTLM

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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MotorSportsTalk‚Äôs Kyle Lavigne continues the team preview of entries for the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona with the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class. At nine entries, it is the smallest of the three classes entered in this weekend’s Rolex 24 and down from last year’s 11 entries, but past events indicate it may be the event’s most competitive class.

The 2017 Rolex 24 saw four different marques from four different teams battling for the GTLM win late in the race, with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing taking the win with Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais. And in 2016, Corvette Racing saw its No. 3 and 4 entries duel to the checkered flag, with Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, and Marcel Fassler victorious in the No. 4 machine.

Below is a breakdown of the teams entered in the GTLM class.

Corvette Racing
Car: Corvette C7.R
No. 3 (Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, Mike Rockenfeller)
No. 4 (Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, Marcel Fassler)

Outlook: Corvette Racing has been a perennial powerhouse in GT racing over the entirety of the 21st century, and that isn’t something that’s likely to change. Coming off their 13th championship last year – Garcia and Magnussen took home last year’s GTLM driver’s crown – Corvette Racing now hunts for its fourth Rolex 24 triumph.

With an unchanged package that is proven to be both fast and reliable, Corvette Racing looks set to again feature prominently in the GTLM battle. Barring problems, both cars should be battling up front for the win.

BMW Team RLL
Car: BMW M8 GTLM
No. 24 (Jesse Krohn, John Edwards, Nicky Catsburg, Augusto Farfus)
No. 25 (Alexander Sims, Connor De Phillippi, Bill Auberlen, Philipp Eng)

Outlook: Of all the GTLM entries, BMW Team RLL sees by far the most change to its program. Out is the M6 GTLM and in is the brand new M8 GTLM. Jesse Krohn, Nicky Catsburg, Augusto Farfus, Philipp Eng and Connor De Phillippi are all new drivers to the team, while veteran Bill Auberlen will only contest the four Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events in 2018.

At the Roar Before the 24, the program appeared to lack speed. Sunday qualifying, to decide pit stall and garage selection, saw the No. 25 qualify the better of the two BMWs, but one second slower than the next quickest car – the BMW set a 1:45.056 for seventh in GTLM, behind the Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE, which set a 1:44.037.

It remains to be seen if there is more speed in the BMW machines, but they remain the most unproven of the GTLM entries. A victory seems out of reach at the moment, but that could change if the package improves.

Risi Competizione
Car: Ferrari 488 GTE
No. 62 (Toni Vilander, Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado, Davide Rigon)

Outlook: Risi Competizione came excruciatingly close to winning last year’s Rolex, but a late-race battle between James Calado and Dirk Mueller, of Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, saw Mueller come out on top, while Calado was shuffled back to third by the time the checkered flag fell.

They did not win an event last year, but this is a team that knows how to win big races – they have previously won the Motul Petit Le Mans – and should once again prove to be a major player in the GTLM battle.

The only major change comes in their driver lineup, with Alessandro Pier Guidi and David Rigon joining the lineup and Giancarlo Fisichella departing. But, with Calado and Toni Vilander returning to anchor the driving team, this change is not expected to slow the team down. Expect them to battle at the front all race long.

Ford Chip Ganassi Racing
Car: Ford GT
No. 66 (Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller, Sebastien Bourdais)
No. 67 (Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook, Scott Dixon)

Outlook: Ford Chip Ganassi Racing returns to the Rolex 24 as defending race winners – Hand, Mueller, and Bourdais delivered the victory in 2017. Further, they return with the same driver lineups and car they used. In short, every indication is that they enter this year’s event as favorites to repeat.

The Roar Before the 24 gave further evidence of this. Both of the cars were among the quickest in every session at the Roar, and Sunday qualifying saw its No. 66 end up at the top of the board, with the No. 67 in third.

The GTLM field is strong all the way around, but this team is likely the favorite entering the event.

Porsche GT Team
Car: Porsche 911 RSR

No. 911 (Patrick Pilet, Nick Tandy, Frederic Makowiecki)
No. 912 (Laurens Vanthoor, Earl Bamber, Gianmaria Bruni)

Outlook: Porsche GT Team brings with it a star-studded driver lineup that features former class winners of the Rolex 24, former overall winners of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and a ton of all-around talent.

The team finished a close second at last year’s Rolex 24, with the No. 911 entry, behind the race-winning Ford from Chip Ganassi’s stable. Later that year, they visited victory lane – Porsche finished 1-2 at Lime Rock Park, with the No. 911 taking the victory – proving that the mid-engine 911 RSR is more than up to the task and gives the team everything they need to be contenders.

Porsche will have a fight on their hands, but this is a team that expects to compete for a victory, and they did win this event in 2014. They round out a titanic GTLM grid and should be a fixture throughout the day.

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